The Pressha!

So you're wondering what I was going to have in my list of resolutions for 2009--

What do you mean no? You weren't wondering?


Well, dang, at least you could lie about it. Okay, that's better--

*ahem* Oh! Funny you ask! I don't do resolutions. That's right, I don't do them. My resolutions come as the days do--it doesn't matter if it coincides with throwing out a calendar. I come up with things like:

I'm going to lose weight

I'm not buying any more bags

I'll brown bag it at work

I'm going to hit the gym three times a week

I'm going to eat better

Okay, some of these are unrealistic, vague or both. The gym one is proving to be really unrealistic. The weight loss one-it depends. In one year I lost 41 pounds! No kidding! I also gained that same 41 pounds over the course of a pregnancy in the same year, but that's just a minor detail. You were impressed before I gave you the whole story, right? That's what matters.

I don't make resolutions because of the pressure. It's self-imposed pressure, but pressure nonetheless. you are better off "resolving" when you are ready to tackle the issue not because it's new year's eve and oh-my-God you HAVE TO (HAVE TO!) come up with a set of goals for a better you! After all, you have a new year to impress and you don't want to disappoint it! Now put on your party hat and celebrate!

I do better committing when I'm ready. That could be June 12th, it could be March 19th. If I fail, I get back to it when I think I'm ready again.

So, hello 2009, take me as I am.

It’s Just Another Sunday—

My ipod connector malfunctioned, which means I am forced to listen to radio or CDs in my car. I don’t bother with the radio. I couldn’t even tell you the title of a current song. Instead, I prefer my own music collection, which is now reduced to a format that can carry about 16 or 17 songs (yes, it’s a single disk player). I know—I’m so deprived, but somehow I’m getting by.

During the holidays I kept Winter Wonderland by Earl Grant on permanent rotation. This was provided to me by my best friend. You won’t find any “official” CDs as it was produced on vinyl, and then cassette, but it never made the jump to CD. This is a shame. The first time I heard this, I was listening to her first bootleg copy, on tape (in the days when it was unheard of to burn a CD) and stuck in traffic northbound on Highway 1. The only thing keeping me from not losing it was this tape. Hilarity ensued. Who would think to add in a jazzy accompaniment to the otherwise rudimentary sounding Jingle Bells? Who would play a opening beat that conjures up images of wild hogs rooting through the forest (at least in my warped mind) to “The Little Drummer Boy?” Earl Grant, that’s who. Everybody should experience Christmas songs interpreted with flourish and flair via jazz organ, piano, soulful humming and/or Nate King Cole-esque singing. To those who have not heard this album before, check it out. Unfortunately Mr. Grant is no longer with us; I think he had quite a few more gems in him that we will never get to witness.

The other day I ejected Earl from the player (Christmas has 12 days and isn’t really over yet, I know, but keep in mind I have been listening to these holiday songs for about 2 weeks straight at this point) and pulled another from my glove box. “Ooooh, Pure Moods,” I thought, taking a quick glance before I inserted the disc. Enya and the X Files theme are always worth a chuckle or two, but my eyes had fooled me. It was not my Pure moods CD (which is probably buried in my Case Logic CD holder), it was in fact, Paul Simon. I wasn’t in the mood for “Me and Julio Down in the Schoolyard” so I ejected the disk and grabbed another one. It was my “GO 80’s” CD—excellent choice. This compilation includes some of the more well known songs, like 99 Red Balloons, The Safety Dance, and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. It also has an Eddy Grant song(the other Mr. Grant. Who knew I could come up with a post mentioning not one, but two E. Grants?). This song is titled “Gimme Hope, Joanna” which, cleverly enough is not about a girl (We have Kool and the Gang to cover that), but Johannesburg during the years of Apartheid. The young kids will hear that and think “What?” but us old ‘uns will get it.

I skipped some of the songs (do you remember trying to do this with cassettes—if you didn’t like the entire album you were screwed. Fast forward—oops, too far—rewind—oops, crappy song again). Yesterday morning, though, I hit one of the unfavorites, “We Built This City.” Don’t tell me you don’t know that one. It’s by Starship, which is the group formerly known as Jefferson Starship that was formerly known as Jefferson Airplane. Can someone please tell me what the hell this song is about besides vague and sinister "Corporation Games?" (Depeche Mode did it better with "Everything Counts") I remember riding in the car listening to the dreaded radio when my dad, who was driving, heard the lyrics and declared “This is a DUMB song.” And it still is, but knowing that, I let it play out, thinking, why not revel in the glorious badness of it all? Behind the shield of my tinted windows, I sang what I remembered of the lyrics. Most of the words came right back to me. And yet, I remember pretty much nothing from the two college semesters of Russian (or pretty much anything else I spent numerous hours of my life learning). Funny how that works. Maybe if I had learned these things with the aid of heavily synthesized repetitive lyrics, my brain would have held onto them longer.


Dream a Little Dream

There’s a dream I’ve had in the past few years that always disturbs me. I’m back in college, starting out for the semester and while I know there is a certain required course on my schedule, I can never remember what day and time I have to attend the course, or in the instances when I do remember, I can not find the classroom, or else I've missed so many classes that there's no possible way to catch up. Sometimes this missing course is English, sometimes math--but the subject never plays a huge factor. Despite these variations, the outcome is always the same: I don’t complete the course, which means I can not graduate on time.

The closing scene is a review by the academic board. Somehow I make it all the way to right before graduation before anyone catches the error. By then the answer is that I have a few days to catch up on a semester’s worth of course material or else I just won’t graduate. Given the time crunch, there's no way for me to catch up. Will they take pity on me or give me the boot? Let me skip a few lessons in the interest of time or make me suffer for being an idiot? Or will honor come into play as I am fully aware that I've missed the course and yet I tried to deceive everyone around me into thinking I had taken it? Who knows. I never find out my fate before I wake up. I emerge from the dream in limbo.

I know this is a completely unrealistic scenario. If I can’t find the classroom, I can ask someone before an entire semester passes me by. If I don’t remember the day and class period, I can pull out my schedule and verify it. If I miss the class, the professor can contact me. There is no way that at West Point a cadet could go without being missed for one class period, never mind an entire semester’s worth of lessons. It just wouldn't happen (not without extreme consequences, anyhow).

Knowing this, I still wake up feeling like a fraud. As if four years of courses (and three summers of making up for failed courses) did not result in a legitimate diploma. As if the ring came from a Cracker Jack box. As if the dream (with its inaccurate academic building layout and multiple variations) somehow trumps reality.

It happens like that sometimes. There have been times when I’ve woken up dazed and it takes a few minutes to accept that what I remember either is not how things happened or that those things never happened at all. Sometimes it takes longer. Have you ever had a dream where you witnessed your significant other cheating on you? “What’s wrong?” he or she will say in the waking hours that follow. “Nothing” you mutter in response, though you want to say "How could you?" Despite knowing it was only a dream, you're absolutely disgusted with them. Disgusted!

Imagine my surprise when I received an official looking envelope from West Point’s department of admissions. “Oh no, it’s a letter revoking my degree” I thought when I saw it there on my dresser. I looked over at my husband’s mail pile and noticed that he did not have a similar envelope. Well, duh. Of course he didn't get one! He’s not the fraud.

Heat rose through my chest and throat as I tore it open.

Inside was an update on the numbers of minority cadets in the current and incoming class. And after that, a request for me to volunteer to be a field minority recruiting representative for the academy.


Candies of a Lesser God

Do you remember coming home from a night of trick or treating with a bag loaded with candy? What was the first thing you did? Right—dump it onto the floor for a quick inventory.

The first things to get weeded out were the apples and pennies. After that, you could get down to business. For me, the ranking order went something like this:

Top Tier candies: m&m’s, Blow Pops, Twix, Milky Way, Three Musketeers, Jolly Ranchers, Mounds, Nestle Crunch, Nestle Alpine White, Hershey Milk Chocolate, Skittles, Butterfinger, Lifesavers

Middle Tier:
Tootsie Pops, Candy Corn, Snickers, Almond Joy, Peanut m&m’s, Smarties, Now and Later, Milk Duds, Whoppers, Candy Corn, Nerds, Dots, Jujubes, Starburst Fruit Chews, Mr. Goodbar

Lower Tier: Dum-Dum lollipops, wax lips, Sunmaid Raisins, Baby Ruth, Bit O' Honey, Sugar Daddies, Chocolate coins, those strawberry hard candies with the gooey insides and Bazooka Joe bubble gum

Utter Crap (the dregs of the Sugar-Based Universe): Good & Plenty.

Did you catch that last one? Good & Plenty. Remember those? Does anyone actually eat and enjoy them? As an adult I never intentionally buy or consume Good & Plenty. I don’t even like black licorice (go ahead and call me a racist, I don’t care) and Good & Plenty is based on black licorice and covered in a shiny white or pink sugar coating. If you separated the colors and carried these around in sandwich baggies, they would kind of look like illegal substances. Who designs a candy in the shape of a drug capsule?

This year I got great gifts from my husband. He is generous and usually does well when choosing gifts but he needs some help in the candy department. In my stocking this year was a package of the aforementioned Good & Plenty. Let me say this again: NEVER have I intentionally bought or consumed Good & Plenty.

What's worse is that this is the SECOND TIME he has bought this as a stocking stuffer. Apparently I used to get it “all the time” when we went to the movies. “Oh, you must be remembering some other girlfriend, because it wasn’t me.” I said. He was so offended I would say such a thing, but how else you could explain the confusion? He misremembered?

Here's a short list of what I would willingly purchase and consume:
milk chocolate---no peanuts, please, but I will accept chocolate involving peanut butter, cashews, almonds or hazelnuts
Twizzlers (NOT those horrid Red Vines, they are Not The Same)
Hot Tamales
Gummi Bears
Jolly Ranchers

Yes, I know, it is just candy but it stings a bit. As one of my friends said, this is what makes men and women are so different. A man would shrug it off and laugh. "What made you think I like these?" he'd say. She'd answer with something and that would be the end of the story. He might not even remember if she repeated the mistake the following year. A woman? She would would take this and run with it. “You don’t know me!” her mind would scream upon discovering a gift that in no way lines up with her tastes. She would make a mental note and file it away as ammunition for any future offenses. You see, it’s not about the candy; it’s about feeling like someone is not paying attention to what I like, and to someone with a sweet tooth like me, candy is a B.F.D.

***disclaimer***--I am not really that upset, I just had to get this out someplace. Thankfully it is just candy and not, say, a new household appliance or season tickets to the Redskins games or a bowling ball engraved with his initials.


And Now For A Moment Of 7th Grade Humor--

This morning while riding the train, I read my little freebie Washington Post Express newspaper.

Right there, on the cover, was a photo of Ken Salazar and Barack Obama, shortly after Mr. Obama made the announcement that Salazar would be the next head of the Department of the Interior. "Obama Taps Salazar To Head Interior." read the headline.

Hmmmm, I thought. That looks might-TEE familiar. Where have I seen this, or something similar to this before?


Then it hit me.


The Saga of THE BOOTS

For two years I stalked a pair of boots. Yes you read that right--boots. Online I discovered the perfect specimen—leopard print calf hair, check, sexy spike heel, check, Platform sole, check. They were gorgeous and woefully higher than the price I was willing to pay for animal print ankle boots.

Last fall they went on sale, but even 49% off of ridiculously expensive still ends up being too costly to justify, so what did I do? I went to a store and bought what I considered to be the next best thing at a fraction of the cost.

Sure the cut of the shoe and coloring of the leopard spots weren’t quite the same, but they would have to do. How closely do people judge leopard print anyway? If that person isn’t me, chances are they don’t really care all *that* much. So I had some boots—not THE boots, mind you, but a compromise that would help me get over not having the exact ones I wanted.

The end. Right?


Despite buying the substitutes, I kept checking out those boots online. All you had to do was type the magic word into Google (“Mercurypipe”), click your heels three times, and voila, the first link to come up took you straight to Zappos. Sometimes the boots were 10% off. Sometimes more. They had been on the site for so long that I took their presence for granted. If I happened to be browsing for something else on Zappos, I could always click around and check up on the boots. They weren’t going anywhere, right?


Imagine my surprise when I caught them at 59% off. I immediately checked to see if my size was available, but the only size left was 10. I could get away with a 9 if I stuffed the toe, but 10 would be pushing it. I filled out the form to be notified if my size miraculously became available but I knew it was futile. Deep discount + one size left meant I had missed my chance. Not only that, but the designer had a new style of leopard print boot at full price, which meant the ones I had stalked were officially old news.

Panic struck. How could it be? I had the other boots, sure, but we all know those were Not The Same. Those were meant to tide me over until the day came when I no longer wanted THE BOOTS. And that day never came. The day that came was when THE BOOTS were no longer available.

I know, I know, it’s just stuff—a material thing you could very easily live without. I have so many shoes more practical than these, so there’s no way to even say that I needed them. They squarely fell into the category of “superficial unnecessary want”, and with another quick search, I was able to figure out what had become of the arsenal of boots that had once been on Zappos.

Bluefly bought them. Sure, the name of the style had been tweaked a bit, but the photos indicated that these were the same boots—same exact, down to the stock photos used on the site. There was no free shipping, but the 49% off sales price was there. I checked the sizes—all were available except my exact size—8. But they had 8 ½. I could get away with a little extra toe room. I bit the bullet.

Am I doing the right thing? I asked myself as I typed in my ordering information.

"Sure you are," I replied. "You looked at these suckers for two years. Why not give yourself an early Christmas gift? Go on. You deserve it."

I could save that money. I could buy someone else something nice. I could give it to charity.

"Are you crazy?"

Well, no, but how can I justify spending--

"But the boots." I replied. "THE BOOTS. You let them slip away on Zappos, and now that you’ve found where they went, you don’t want to lose them again!"

I pressed the “Complete order” button and waited for my confirmation to pop up.

I felt a little sick at the amount (because 49% off of ridiculously expensive is still expensive) but if I brought my lunch to work for a month, I could defray the cost. And if I kept that up, I could save a lot of money over a year. Bringing in lunch was the answer. Why, if you added it up, I was buying the equivalent of THE BOOTS (at 49% off) in lunch every single month. That was worse than just buying THE BOOTS once.

Early the following week, I tracked the shipment. “They should get there soon,” said a friend, “the warehouse is just down the road in Virginia.”

When Wednesday rolled around, I came home and checked the front step. Nothing. I went upstairs and checked my computer. “Delivered at 4:55 p.m.” read the UPS note.

They were already here!

I checked the front again, but there was still nothing. I went to the garage, opened the door and—there, in the corner between the house and the garbage can was a box. The return address was Bluefly. I retrieved it, closed the garage and whisked the package upstairs to my room, where I prepared for the unveiling. Would they be everything I had hoped for, or was the idea of having the boots better than the reality?

I pulled off the packing tape, pushed the stuffing paper out of the way and uncovered the purple Stuart Weitzman box. With a deep breath I pulled off the lid.

Angels sang. Beams of light rained down from the heavens. It was...beautiful. (Sidenote: why do I look like Tobey Maguire?!)

Okay, just kidding. But there they were in the “flesh” (in the leopard printed calf skin? How do you describe it when you “meet” an inanimate object?) It is kind of gory and creepy if that object is made from a once living thing.

I pulled them out and tried them on. By now I was in pajama pants, so it wasn’t a good look, but this was more of a test for fit and feel. The soles of the shoes were—stiff. The heel was a bit higher than I was used to. I hobbled down to the guest room to check them out in the full length mirror. I wasn’t sure if I had pants long enough for these, but I’d figure something out. I would make them work.

After I took them off, I studied the workmanship. Each boot was made of two pieces of material. The hair was like silk. The color was rich. Even the suede on the platform resembled velvet. These made the substitutes I bought last year look like utter crap. They were expensive—the most I had ever spent on a pair of shoes, but come on, you’re paying for QUALITY. I still felt guilty about the cost but it was a one time deal. I’d get over it. Besides, I never had any of this buyer’s guilt before having a kid. For some reason being a mother makes you think of all of the different ways you could have spent that money for OTHER PEOPLE. If it’s for you and strictly for you, somehow it seems wrong. (Oddly enough, men don’t seem to have this problem.)

So the next thing was preparing for the Debut of THE BOOTS. Holiday party? Nah, that involves too much standing. Dinner out on a weekend? Possibly. They would be cute with jeans. Work? That involves a lot of sitting, but that might be better. I would have to make sure the rest of my outfit was subdued though. There would be no coordinating animal print scarves, belts or bags (though I own some of those as well). I wasn’t trying to represent the entire animal kingdom. I was just going for interesting little accent piece. You know, kind of a plain outfit—oh that’s a nice silk jacket, oh there are some black pants and then WOW! Did you see those boots? That’s what I was going for.

So I wore them yesterday. It took some adjustment, but seeing the world from four inches higher than my usual perspective was strangely empowering. If I walked short distances they were moderately comfortable. I could do this!

A friend asked if we could meet for lunch. “Sure,” I said, picking a location not too far from my own building. I could strut down there without having to change shoes, I thought. When she called to let me know she had arrived, I thought, Well, so have I! THE BOOTS and I have arrived.

Okay, no, I didn’t think that. I’m not that much of an asshole. I just told her I’d be there in two minutes. I grabbed my bag from my desk, took a step and whoops

I looked at the floor first. Was there a hole? Had I tripped? I stepped down again and whoops

Something wasn’t right. I balanced on one foot, bent my knee and sloooowly lifted the other foot. There. The heel was--bent?

No! It was broken. Clean off! I had to study it for a few seconds to fully process what happened before I pulled off the heel in disbelief. Five slightly bent screws protruded from where the heel should have been. What in the world? The first day I wear them and THE BOOTS didn’t even make it to lunch time? I’ve had payless shoes that stayed intact for years, but the most expensive shoes I’ve ever bought don’t even survive a few hours? Quality my foot.

I felt a little sick inside, but it would be okay. I put on my spare shoes (kept in my desk drawer), grabbed a plastic sack and stuffed the boots inside and continued on to lunch. There was a cobbler and he could probably fix them. In fact, I took both boots in the event that the other one had a similar flaw.

After lunch, I beelined it to the cobbler's shop.

When he pulled out the pliers relief washed over me. There was hope after all. Suddenly he stopped. Shaking his head slowly, he said those awful words.

“They can’t be fixed.”

"Can't. be. fixed?" I echoed.

He explained that part of the main screw had broken off inside of the heel which meant there would be no repair.

"I'm sorry." he said, obviously reading the anguish on my face. It was curtains for THE BOOTS.

Now was the time to panic. I returned to the office, sat through my meeting while wondering what Bluefly’s return policy was. If they wouldn't take them back I'd have to break out the Liquid Nails and try my hand at shoe repair once I got home. After the meeting, I went to my desk and checked online

“Footwear returns will be accepted on unworn shoes returned in the original shoebox (without postal labels).”

Well, that didn't sound good. It was time to call a human being and plead my case. I called customer service with my sob story (emphasizing that this was the first day I had ever worn them) and Tiffany the customer service rep told me I could send it back noting that there was a defect and I would get my money (or credit) back.

I exhaled.

“They’re still available in your size if you want to buy another pair.” She offered.

“No,” I said, “I don’t think so.”

“I understand.” Replied Tiffany.

I’m sure there’s a lesson in all of this. Priciness does not equal quality? All that glitters isn’t gold? It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? Who knows; I’m still trying to figure it out. I even pulled the substitutes from the closet. The calf hair felt like sandpaper and there was a seam down the toe, but they were still in one piece and had survived their debut wearing. Even if they hadn't, I didn't spend nearly as much on them. Sure, they were Not The Same, but they weren't so bad.

What I'll remember most was that feeling of disappointment and the horror of holding the dismembered heel in my hand. Never again will I insist that paying the extra guarantees that what you're buying is better than the cheap-o version.

Stuart Weitzman, you're dead to me. Dead!

(well, at least until these go on sale)


The Error of Negative Thinking

So today I drove to a friend's house (40 miles from mine) and I noticed my tire light came on (yes, the one of the infamous "blinka-blinka" post. It usually comes on when one of the tires' pressure doesn't match the others. Lately, it's popped on two or three times, but after the initial discovery that there wasn't much difference in pressure between all four tires, I started ignoring and resetting it instead of, you know, actually checking to see if anything was wrong.

Yesterday I washed the car. As I bent to scrub down the rear driver side wheel, I noticed, "hey, that tire looks a bit low." It had been awhile since I checked them, and the tempurature's dropped, so maybe it was time to adjust for the denser, colder winter air.

I checked it. First the tire pressure gauge said 8.0. As in 8 pounds of air pressure per square inch of tire. That's right, EIGHT. Zer-o-eight-o. If you know anything about automobile tires, you would know that the pressure shouldn't be reading in single digits. Ever. I checked it again.


Technically double digits, but not any better. Worse, in fact. I had even driven on them that day. It was a short jaunt to the library, but come on. Someone should have knocked me aside the head for that. And I was wondering why my gas mileage has been so shitty lately. Barack Obama would be ashamed.

I checked the other three tires. They were all in the low 20's. Better, but not much. The manual states that they should be at least 33, and 38 if you're loaded up with four people and luggage (laughable in my car, but I guess the law requires them to put the recommended tire pressure for the "what if/it could happen" situations).

Now here's my question--when the tire pressures barely varied, the idiot blinka-blinka light popped on. But it didn't for a rear tire with a reading of 8? Did the manufacturer run a deal with the tow truck companies to drum up business? So when things are normal, the light comes on and I panic, but when they are clearly and visibly unsafe, no light? Wha happened?

Today I was heading to a friend's house and not long after I merge onto the highway, you guessed it--blinka blinka. "Oh, shit." I think, knowing that the rear tire was flat just yesterday. I glance in my side view mirror to cop a peek at the tire. Surprisingly, 1) I can see it and 2) it looks a-okay. The sidewall is not scraping the pavement. I continue on, passing a green Cadillac SUV with West Virginia plates. I know what you're thinking, "ha-ha, nothing good ever came out of West Virginia." I know--I thought it too. Hey, I'm not proud.

I stop at a local mall (vs. the one 50 miles away), find an empty parking area and check my tires agains. I use my portable compressor that plugs into the lighter and I fill the rear one (oo, smart, you're saying, but really I bought it because I'm too stingy to feed quarters into the ones as the gas stations). The rest of the tires match up (they are safely in the mid-30's, while the rear driver's side is about 1.5 pounds less than the others.

As I was going around to check the tires, I noticed the same West Virginia small Cadillac SUV in the parking lot. Now this wasn't the regular lot--this was theone that is only used during the last two days before Christmas. This is the overflow lot. "What the hell are they doing here?" I think, but I continue along, hoping I can fill up the tire and be done with the idiot light for good.

After I finished filling the rear one, they pull around. Don't make eye contact, I think. Maybe they're lost and need directions. West Virginia is a long way from here (not really, but suburban Marylanders like to pretend it is). My music is playing on the stereo and my back is turned. Keep it moving, I think. Then I realized they were talking to me.

I turned around to face two women. "We saw you pull over and we wanted to help, but we weren't sure how. We saw you had a little one..."

me: (thinking): but that was why I got the windows tinted, so people wouldn't "see" anything back there--

"...and we just want to make sure everything was okay. "

"Ohhh..." I say. "I'm an asshole," I think. "Thank you. The tire pressure light came on and..." I try to coherently explain my ongoing battle with the light and how I think filling the tire solved the problem. I'm an idiot describing an idiot light.

"Okay," they said before peeking through the open door and admiring my daughter (three year olds are best viewed from outside of the car, when they are half-asleep and still strapped into their booster seat).

I thanked them and honestly it was such a sweet thing to do ("That's so sweet of you" were my words). I feel awful for feeling distrustful when I saw they pulled into the same area. So shame on me and yay on them. And yay for anyone else out there who has gone out of their way to help or check on a total stranger.


I know we’re in a recession but--

A few days ago I received this message as part of a mass email blast:

All - Someone may have mistakenly taken my cup from the Kitchen located next to the Bubble Conference room.
Description of cup: White with Company Logo and has my name on the bottom of the cup. If someone finds it, could you please return to me or replace it in the Kitchen.

I wish I could say this was a unique incident, but the truth is, in my office, we have a mug bandit in our midst. Last year one of my good friends in my office also had her cup go missing. The last time I saw that cup was when it was filled with water sitting by the sink, post oatmeal breakfast. It’s not even so much that these are valuable things, it’s just the principle of stealing someone else’s cup that disgusts baffles me .

I know we don’t get great salaries, but why would someone steal a mug? We have all kinds of shops that sell mugs downstairs; take your pick between Starbucks, Rite Aid, the Hallmark Store, and the multitude of cheesy souvenir shops, there are probably more mugs available than people to steal them.

I keep my own mug on my desk, free for the taking, except it hasn’t walked away just yet. It seems that the crimes are occurring in the kitchen, where, say, it wouldn’t be at all obvious to grab the cup loitering near the sink or the countertop. No one would question you there, but if you took it straight from someone else’s cube, with an outer wall clearly marked with a name that’s not yours, it might be more obvious.

I don’t understand why anyone would want a used and possibly dirty mug? Why would you want someone’s dried hot cocoa dregs or lipstick stains? Do you go to the restaurant and ask for unwashed coffee cup when it’s time for dessert?

Never mind, I don't really want to know.


The stages of reading a not-so-good book

Writing regularly means you also have to be a good reader. I always read books and even took a high school job that offered me regular access to books. Even now, the old library worker tendencies are hard to fight. I went to the library this past Saturday and shelved two books that were out of place. Not because I had to, but because old habits die hard.

I also found a few books, one of which I had been meaning to read. Strangely enough, it was released back in the spring, which usually means it would still be with the new books, but there was no tell tale blue dot on the binding and nothing that would otherwise suggest it was out of place. When I saw this, the conspiracy thinking gears started turning. Was this relatively new book shelved with the rest because the author was a gay black male? I know, I’m ridiculous, but when a book released in 2007 is still in the “new” section and one that was released in spring of 2008 is not, I start wondering.

I'll save the conspiracy theory for another time. This post is about reading itself, specifically reading something you expected to be good, or at least decent, and slowly discovering that it is, in fact, very, very bad.

Sometimes you get through the first few pages and give up, or “Cut your losses” as they say. This is probably best because in the end you haven’t lost much time and if it came from the library, you didn’t lose any money.

I’m reading my latest library pick and hovering between “I know he could have written this better” and “How close am I to reaching the last page?” It’s never good to want to rush to the end. I feel obligated to finish because I started the first two thirds with hopes that the storyline would improve. With that much invested, I might as well stick around till the end. Again, this is never good.

When you pick up a book, you do so with the hope that it’s going to be good. Sometimes it really is good. Sometimes you want to recapture the magic so badly that you return to the same author in hopes that the rest of their work is as good. When it’s great, you use every waking hour to finish the book while at the same time wishing it could last longer. But when it’s bad, you feel duped. More than that, when it’s bad but the majority of people who have read it think it’s good, you feel like you’re on crazy pills.

It’s happened too many times for me to count. I don’t know if it’s because I'm less forgiving now that I have gotten into writing or if I’m just completely not seeing what everyone else gets the book. Sometimes I find myself scouring the one and two star reviews on Amazon just to confirm that I’m not the only one who missed out on the magic.

The stages you go through when you realize you are reading a bad book mirror the stages of grief:

1) Denial (This book is going to get better. It has to get better.)

2) Anger (Who let this get published?)

3) Bargaining (If I return it to the store, at least I'll get my money back. If I get away with it, I'll borrow books from the library for the rest of my days.)

4) Depression (Will I ever read a good book again?)

5) Acceptance (Okay, it sucked. Let’s see what else the library has)


The Rice Farmer in China

I recently enjoyed the privilege of being my best friend’s maid of honor (okay, “matron” since I am an old married lady and haven’t been a “maid” for some time now). Duties included buying a dress in the shade of “Apple” and showing up at the right time. Honestly, she was a fabulous bride and not demanding in the least. She was the Anti-bridezilla.

Oh…actually one of my duties included giving a speech. I knew this was coming and she deserved a good one. A week before the wedding, she called and checked to make sure it was okay with me. “Oh, sure!” I said, “I have an idea, I just have to sit down and write it up.”

Those of you who know me best know that I do okay with writing, but the speaking, the delivery of the words, even if they are prepared, needs some help.

I’ve always admired people who can tell a tale so well that you feel like you were right there with them when it happened. In some cases the story is even better than the truth, and even though you know the story might be better than the true version, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you were entertained. When I tell a story, consider yourself lucky if I manage to recall at least half of the details. Weaving in humor is a whole different level that I’m not ready to do. Instead I rush through, hoping not to get tongue tied, hoping that at the end, everything I’ve recounted was understood.

I’m also a procrastinator. I strongly believe that if you wait till the last minute, your task really will take a minute. Now that doesn’t mean what you do will be a success or that it will have any value at all, but what do you expect when it takes a minute?

I knew I had to write that speech. I had an idea of what I wanted to say. I figured I’d knock it out on the laptop over the weekend, or even better—on the plane ride—a five and a half hour stretch of time where I had no choice but to sit there. What I didn’t anticipate was that my keyboard time would be cut into by a two year old who really really wanted to watch Charlotte’s Web. I know, I know, excuses, excuses. It’s what we procrastinators do best. I really had it down to the wire when I arrived at the wedding site with my little notepad at the ready for my speech. If I wrote it an hour before the ceremony, the feelings in the words would be more genuine—more fresh, if you will.

Well, we went through some pre-wedding stuff, I walked through flower girl duties with my daughter, and the next thing you know, I was on deck to walk down the aisle. Time had run out and I had no speech to give.

I know, excuses, excuses.

Needless to say I was thankful when the wedding reception flowed without any calls for me to step up and present my speech. Was it that I had nothing to say? No, not at all. It was that there was so much to say that I couldn’t figure out what to mention and how to tie it all together. I still haven’t figured that out, but my best friend still deserves her speech, so I’ll take a crack at it here.

We used to speculate over the men we’d marry. The guys were always real men, grown, and mature in body, mind and spirit, that is to say, the “soulmates” we envisioned for ourselves were never the grown up versions of the ones we liked in school. There was always hope for better than the “slim pickins” we saw every day. Beyond that, there weren’t any real specifics to these future husbands. They would come along one day, and somehow we would just know.

Well, her big worry was, what if he didn’t come along. There was never a doubt that the soulmate didn’t exist, but what if meeting him was impossibility? In my best friend’s exact words: “What if my soulmate is a rice farmer in China?”

Now there is nothing wrong with being a Chinese rice farmer, the problem was when the guy lived halfway around the world in a country (population:~one billion), then what were the chances you’d meet him?

It wasn’t a stupid question, but I dismissed it just the way I dismissed her worries about Global Warming. “Oh don’t worry,” I said, “that’s not going to happen!”

The truth was, I didn’t know and besides, look how my prediction on global warming turned out. I didn’t know, but I also thought she was pretty, smart, generous, talented and funny enough for someone to notice, and not only that, I was banking on at least one of the guys who noticed to be someone worthy. I didn’t know it would happen, but I had faith.

My best friend often lamented that she wished finding a good guy could be as effortless as our friendship had been. We met in 8th grade—both new kids in a school where the same people had known each other since kindergarten. We were also outcasts—she was an overweight redhead while I was from across the country, and well, not white. Usually these things aren’t major issues, in 8th grade in the school we attended, apparently they were. We spent many lunch times discussing our misery in each other's company.

Things got better in high school. I had a group of friends, but many times it was just us. At first glance, we were opposites. She was white, I was black. She was tall, I was short. She was Penn and I was Teller (okay, I think you get the point). The superficial differences didn't matter because we found a lot of the same things funny. Earl Grant Christmas music would have us howling. A certain word uttered in English class ("discharge") got us sent to the hallway where we could freely roll on the floor in hysterics (yes, we were really on the floor).

As if we didn’t spend enough time talking, we also passed notes to each other between classes, so we could carry on discussions when we were apart. High school in general sucks, but it would have been so much worse without her there.

I left for college two weeks after graduation, so we didn’t even have a proper last summer to hang out. Instead, I was going through the drill at West Point. We still carried on our tradition of notes, this time in the form of letter writing. I used a few of my once a week phone calls to talk to her because I knew she would make me laugh, whereas calling my mom would make me cry. After I told her we were not allowed to keep chocolate or any kind of candy in our rooms, she sent me a large envelope with three milk chocolate Hershey bars—the big ones—one for me, and one for each of my roommates.

We took different routes into adulthood, but we stayed in touch. I visited when I could. She overcame her fear of flying too—not enough to make it in time for my graduation, but later, when my husband and I had our wedding ceremony at West Point. It was an interesting trip because she not only got to see the place I had written about for four years, she also saw the house where I grew up, and we got to hang out in the hotel room the night before the ceremony. When you can hang out with someone and not need TV or any other traditional form of entertainment, you know you have a true friend. We have entertained ourselves by blowing bubbles, feeding aerosol easy-cheese to a cat, stealing pumpkins, and dumping food into an open toilet but I can’t promise that any of these activities would have been fun with anyone else. It was fun because it was us.

I didn’t meet Richard until this past June. Everything I knew about him didn’t send up red flags. I wasn’t even convinced by the text message saga of 2006. His humor is a perfect match for Heather’s. He’s smart, sweet and talented too. He adores her. Best of all, he wasn't a rice farmer in China, so there were no language or geographical barriers to get in the way. I knew he would show up eventually. I don’t know how I knew; I just had faith. (I'm also glad I was right this time!)


Observations on the Road to Old

Some signs of getting old(er):

A song by your favorite group is regularly piped into stores as easy listening/shopping music (“Friday I’m in Love”)

A song by The Fixx is used to sell Toyotas (“Saved by Zero” isn’t really about zero interest financing)

You have to explain to your decade younger co-worker that the muzak being played is not based on the song by the Notorious B.I.G., but the one by Lisa Stansfield (All Around the World)

You remember when “Our House” was played on the radio, and it wasn’t about coffee.

I Like To Move It” wasn’t geared towards kids.

Songs by Queen and The Police came programmed on your 3 year old's toy guitar.

You can identify (and tend to prefer) the songs being sampled over the newer songs borrowing from the original.


Thoughts on Things to Come

Art can be a sculpture, a painting, a photograph, a poem or a play. It can be the Blue Man Group or Van Gogh. It can be a concept or something tangible. A crumpled piece of paper in a wire wastebasket can be art if someone deems it so. Art is about expression. If you're good, it can be iconic. If you're great, immortal.

There’s art, and then there’s “art.” One person’s art may be another’s “art.” What determines the difference is usually up to the beholder. Dogs playing poker, Velvet Elvis paintings and Karaoke generally fall into the “art” category. “Art” is Thomas Kinkade and Nicolas Sparks. “Art” is Bob Ross and his canned oil paintings of happy little trees. “Art” is a formula that doesn’t involve much risk. Most people like it for its camp factor, or else they're indifferent--but also--they don’t spend much time thinking about it.

After last week’s election of Obama, I have a sneaking suspicion that there is quite a bit of “art” yet to come.

Yes, I know, it was a historic election (or "an" historic election, if you're into saying it that way). Yes, I cried, hell, my eyes were puffy for two days straight. Yes, I understand the significance, the importance, the great amount of hope and faith exercised in voting for a man whose story might not even be possible in another country. Yes, I know the newspapers were sold out. Trust me, I get it.

What I don’t get is the inevitable “art” that is spawned from events like these. "Art" that boils down to people banking on others' desire to capture a piece of the moment and keep it in their homes. NBC’s already pitched their DVD. I’m sure there were a number of bootleg t-shirts and stickers that in no way benefited Obama's campaign. Americans are enterprising people. When you see a man hawking Sean Taylor #21 skill caps and t-shirts outside the metro station less than a week after the man died, you don’t think it’s because the seller really wants to keep Taylor’s memory alive; it’s because he wants to make a buck of off someone else who does.

Can we talk about this?

I don’t even know where to begin. The unicorn? The "God" rays? The “aura?” The strategically placed twinkles? The roses? The bridge to nowhere? The open shirt? The “B” belt buckle? The “water”? (or is it fire? Or is it water on fire?) This is just the beginning, folks.

I get feeling proud. I felt proud. I don’t get the reasoning behind someone who buys these things. The following popped into my head on a train ride home: oil on canvas of a scene involving Obamas entering the White House. Around the perimeter? Ghosts of slaves with beaming faces as they watch their descendants enter the house they built with their own hands. The image is heavy handed enough to knock you over. I couldn’t find anything online, but there’s a feeling deep within me that someone is working away on this very thing as I type. If you read that, nodded your head, and thought “I’d buy that,” well...if I ever come to your house and see the aforementioned oil painting, please excuse me if I look like I’m trying not to laugh. It’s not so much that it’s funny, it’s more that it’s awkward.

Like when you go to a home and there’s a life-sized statue of Jesus on the cross hanging from the wall? Awk-ward. 16X20 bridal portrait of the bride (and only the bride because it was her day, y'know) over the fireplace? Awk-ward. These are the kinds of things that leave me lost for words. I respect your convictions, but you don’t need to clobber my eyeballs with your questionable taste.

Is there anything wrong with this? No, not really (okay, sometimes there is). I have seen all kinds of “art” in the shops downstairs from where I work. I’ve seen framed photographs of the patron saint of conservatism, Ronald Reagan, I’ve seen a painting of presidents (dead and alive, Democrat, Republican, and Bull Moose) playing poker, I’ve seen an embroidered throw pillow with the letter “W” on it. The difference is that while it’s hokey, I don’t feel too embarrassed because these things come without the weight of history in the making (and I know it’s highly unlikely that anyone I know would buy it). Obama hasn’t even taken office and people are already talking about his “legacy.” I want him to do well too, but at least allow the man some time to get started. I can see keeping a newspaper, or making a shadow box to commemorate the election, but there’s a certain point when you realize it’s gone too far!

Over the next 4 years, and possibly the 4 after that, I can only hope the worst that comes out of it is the "art" that results.


Whoooo are you, hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo

Now that this election business has been settled, I can get back to focusing on the important things. Today’s subject? C.S.I.

No, not the real stuff, the pretend one on T.V., specifically the original version (I have never watched one episode of the N.Y. and Miami versions). Yes, it's a T.V. related post. Yes I watch the show. Shut up.

A long time ago, before a mortgage payment and a kid crept into my life, my husband and I caught one of the first episodes. The intro excited us week after week—who could have thunk of a more captivating start—you have a sweeping view of Las Vegas lights at night paired with The Who’s most memorable (and memorizable) song.

As soon as the show started, we would plunk ourselves down for an hour of whodunit paired with C.G.I enhanced autopsy visuals. There was nothing like it anywhere else on T.V.

Now, eight years later, the episodes collect on the DVR, taking up hard drive space like dirty clothes in the hamper. What happened?

1) The love story—

Sidle and Grissom sittin’ in a tree. Why? Why was this even necessary? Why was it hinted at with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge manner? Were we really supposed to care when this relationship was mostly kept secret, even from the audience? Then Jorja Fox’s contract gets canceled and bingo-bango, she has to get out of this career path and get the hell out of Dodge. Fine, except they brought her back for A Very Special Episode..Oh! Which brings us to--

2) Warrick. Okay, we knew he got shitcanned his contract was not renewed. But then on the show they kill him off (because we already saw one character ride off into the sunset, I guess that would have been too predictable), and not only that, introduce a son no one knew about. These people have been working together during all kinds of odd hours of the day and no one knew this? Again, why? What was the point? To make us feel sorry? As if it wasn’t enough to witness the guy realize he was going to be shot and then wait it out for the entire summer to then watch him bleed out all over Grissom?

3) Loose threads

When Grissom was evaluating the sound coming from the nightclub against the gunshot (re-enacting the setting for the investigation of Warrick's murder), I said to my husband--

"Whatever happened to his degenerative hearing problem--wasn't that the BFD from a few seasons back? Why would you have someone who is supposedly going deaf see if he can hear a gun shot while music blares from the nearby nightclub?"

We have never heard about that again, yet at the time the episode aired, Grissom was hanging his head like he was facing some great tragedy. What changed? Did he purchase a whisper 2000? Did a faith healer get the demons out of him? Beats the hell out of me. Maybe after the season when Grissom was diagnosed, the audience was then expected to get some kind of degenerative memory problem and forget all about that.

(okay, he had surgery. I missed that episode. Thank you wikipedia.)

4) Stretching out the blindingly obvious over the course of an hour

The recent bank robbery episode with "twist" involving the hypnotist was absolutely lazy and insulting. We're supposed to believe these people are professional crime solvers and no one recognized the fake beard the instant they saw that footage?
I know, I know, the show is grasping at realism without even trying. No one in forensics is going to study evidence in a room lit by a single 10 watt blue hued lightbulb. A C.S.I. isn’t going to wear skintight pants and a low cut shirt while gingerly stepping over a dead body to collect evidence (I’m looking at you, Marg Helgenberger). So much of this is fiction for entertainment’s sake and I recognize that, but these types of shows have a limited shelf life before they get stupid and resort to inserting gimmicks like contrived love stories (check), killing off characters (check) and uninspired, easily solved mysteries (check). Bringing in new characters with the hope of breathing some new life into the show. (Lawrence Fishburne, check). Google "E.R." if you need another example.

Maybe it’s just time to zip the bag.


The Streets of San Francisco

We moved to California the summer before I started 8th grade. Our family was down to just three then, since my sister was out of the house and in the Air Force.

The move put us what felt like a world away from New York. Even in the suburbs, you still got the news from the city, and living there was like living in the center of the universe. There was always enough going on that an entire newscast could focus on the latest events in the five boroughs and the rest of the tri state area. If you heard about anyplace else in the country it was only because you stuck around to watch the syndicated news.

Compared to New York, the local news in California seemed like a joke. No murders? No robberies? No footage of Ed Koch ranting? The biggest news here was weather and earthquakes. For a long time, my parents had the New York Times delivered even though it wasn’t the local paper. We noted the differences between there and here. For a long time California didn’t feel like home. There was a lingering feeling that it was merely an extended vacation.

One summer, my aunt ventured out for a visit. She was getting into traveling and in the years since, she made plans and stuck with them. If she told you she was going to visit, it wasn’t lip service, it was a promise. We picked her up from the airport and gave her a tour of the house. This was the only person, besides my sister, who had gotten a glimpse into our past and present lives.

The highlight of the trip was to be our trip to San Francisco. My dad didn’t take time off from work, which meant that would have to wait until the weekend. In the meantime, Aunt Alice hung out with me and my mom in the house, perfectly content to be the pampered houseguest. When Saturday came, she got her camera bag and walking shoes and we all piled into the car.

“I’m going to see the Streets of San Francisco!” she said.

While navigating the city, we drove down a road so steep that required my dad to shift the car into second and then first gear. Every time we got out to walk somewhere, Aunt Alice would pull out her brand new video recorder to capture the sights and scenes. She loved cameras and photographs, but videos were an entirely new frontier. The camera rolled as we looked over the water at Alcatraz and when we marveled over the cars zigzagging down Lombard Street. We walked through the tunnel into Chinatown. We looked up at the TransAmerica building from the sidewalk below. We watched trolleys dropping off tourists at Fisherman’s Wharf and we saw Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.

Then we piled back into the car and drove home. My dad plugged Aunt Alice’s camera into the TV. She had gotten some decent footage, but every time we left one attraction to walk to another, she had forgotten to put the video camera on standby. As a result, the footage captured by her swinging arm included blurred sidewalks, moving feet and yes, the Streets of San Francisco.

RIP Aunt Alice!


Lunchbox Shell Game

I’m going back in time for this entry, way back to third grade of Colton Elementary School, which was the first year I didn’t carry a brown paper sack. This was the year when I had a plastic yellow Garfield lunchbox, purchased from Caldor during the back to school shopping spree. Back then my love of Garfield surpassed my feelings for Snoopy. I was also getting better at drawing Garfield, which somehow made him more accessible. Much to her dismay, I would borrow from my sister’s collection of Garfield books, only half understanding the sarcasm and more complicated storylines. Garfield was the It cat back then, which meant I wasn’t the only one in the class with that lunchbox. Michael Bulger had the same exact one. I did my best to memorize the marks and scratches on my lunchbox in case I chose his by mistake. If I opened it up and the lunch looked completely different from my mom’s usual fare, then I would figure it out and make the switch, no harm, no foul, no germ-swapping.

One day we took a break for snacks in the classroom. I went to the shelf above the coat rack, grabbed the yellow lunchbox, checked it briefly and headed towards my desk. The sandwich inside the plastic baggie? Yeah, that was totally something my mom would have made. The banana on the side? And lack of cookies or chips? That was just her style. I unscrewed the top of the matching Thermos bottle and took a sip from the straw. Hm, chocolate milk! I thought, and then, Man, this could use a few more squirts of Hershey’s syrup.

It was then when I looked up and saw Michael approaching, holding my lunchbox.



Just Say No

Recently I saw a former seatmate from one of my previous evening commutes. As soon as I recognized him, I turned my head, careful to avoid any eye contact in case he happened to look up. After we boarded the train, I kept myself occupied with reading my book and toying with my iPod. Thankfully he never looked up. If he had, it would have involved at least a smile, or a wave or some phony exchange, and if you remember the original post about the guy, I have already heard more than enough from him.

Sometimes if you're lucky, you don't have to go to such great lengths to avoid someone who has snagged you in the past. Even if you slip up and make eye contact, sometimes they forget.

One afternoon I managed to escape the house and head over to T.J. Maxx (it’s across the street from my house so obviously I didn’t go very far). It was there where I was accosted.

A smiling woman who looked to be around my age approached me as I browsed the knitwear section.

“Hi.” She said.

Interesting. No one had ever greeted me in T.J. Maxx before. I wasn’t going to flat out ignore her, so I said hello. From there she eased into her Mary Kay sales pitch.

Yes, I know. I should have suspected something when I saw that, while she was dressed down, her face was completely made up. Under the guise that she would be throwing a party that involved a free facial treatment, I gave her my name and number.

Big mistake.

Aisha was relentless. The phone would ring, and there she was chipper as can be—
“I just wanted to see what date would work for the free facial!”

Inside, I was groaning. I used the busy-with-the-new-baby excuse and weaseled out of it. She tried two more times, one of them when my best friend was visiting.

“Don't you know what they do at those parties?” My friend said. “They herd you into a living room and try to sell you shit.”

“I know, I know.” I said, after hanging up the phone. Why was it so hard to say no? Why do we feel compelled to go along with the pitch even if we’re in no way interested in what’s being sold?

A few months later Aisha found me browsing T.J. Maxx again (I'm in there pretty often; it's never the same place twice). The minute I looked up at her face and placed the smile, I stood, frozen, knowing exactly what was going to come next.

“…we do free facial parties and really it’s a lot of fun…”

When pressed for my name and phone number, I thought, are you kidding me? You just ran into me last December. I looked into her eyes and saw there was no flash of recognition behind them. She didn’t remember me at all.

So I did what anyone else would have done--

I told her my name was Keisha*, rattled off a ten digit phone number** and got the hell out of there.

*not my real name
**not my real number


Personal Cheesus

If you look at something long enough, sometimes you can tilt your head, or squint your eyes and see it as something entirely different. Optical illusions are fun. Making something different out of something that is otherwise completely ordinary
can be mesmerizing. How did they do it, you think. What inspired this twist?

Other times the illusion comes about on its own over time and without manipulation. Or sometimes it’s manufactured. Once in awhile one of these things will go up for sale on eBay. Check out the Illinois Corn Flake and the Elvis potato chip.

Then there are the religious sightings. This brings a whole new level of awe. Not only is it something looking like something else (okay, some of these require quite a bit of eye-squinting and head-tilting) but you also have Deeper Meaning. The people who see these things want to convince you: This is no coincidence, my friend!

The last one to make the news was a Cheeto. Now it looked like a T-shaped Cheeto to me, but others insist that no, this was indeed an incarnation of Jesus! On the cross! Wait! Here's another one!

If you don’t see it, you’re just an unbeliever.

Well, that part is true; I have a hard time believing that Jesus would reveal himself to humanity as a salty processed snack food.

Pondering the Inevitable

My aunt died a couple of months ago. I know this is the natural order of things, and while she reached 83 active years of age, had a full life and did everything you’re “supposed” to do before you die, it was still shocking. Why? Because she was relatively healthy and it was completely unexpected. Going out this way might be good for the person who died, but man it’s hard on the ones left behind. I still can’t bring myself to delete her email address from my contact list (yes, she was an older person who willingly used email!). Keeping the address is harmless, but it’s not going to bring her back.

I grasped that things would come to an end at an early age. How did I make this terrifying discovery? When I was about four years old, browsing the pages of a science book--specifically, a Peanuts (yes, by Charles M. Schulz) science book. There was a series of them, and my sister owned the first four. I tried to find them on eBay to prove that I’m not crazy, but my search was unsuccessful; you’ll just have to take my word for it: Peanuts Science Books—hey, it was the ‘70’s. Kids liked popular comic characters delivering their facts. What I read was this: “In Five billion years the sun will be in the red giant phase and come to an end.” Even then, I knew this was not good news. If the sun was gone, then the Earth didn’t have a chance. Therefore, the world was coming to an end!

I bawled over this. FIVE BILLION YEARS! I lost sleep and voiced my worries on long car trips. This was serious business and no one seemed to care!

Eventually (and inexplicably), I moved on.

There is a “Childhood Trauma Checklist” from Matt Groening’s Life In Hell cartoon which includes the death of a parent. This is another thing that can make you preoccupied with death. It’s not always such a terrible thing—you can get some pretty good jokes out of the deal. My senior year in high school, a lot of students lost parents, most of them fathers. This contributed to a group my best friend and I coined, “Dead Dad’s Club.” There was an adult counselor there who ran a group catered specifically to us. My best friend and I attended—not because we really wanted to sort through the issues, but because—hey—you get to get out of class!

So one day, I handed over my Dead Dad Club note to my teacher (while looking appropriately humbled and slightly sad) and skipped out of class. At the meeting I sat next to my friend.

“Close your eyes and think of a flower blowing in the breeze.” The counselor said.

Apparently it was a relaxation technique, but in my case, it was a battle to squelch the inappropriate laughter rising up through my chest. A flower? I controlled my breathing and locked my lips shut. The mistake had been sitting next to my friend. We nudged each other under the table, willing the other one to bust out first. If either of us did have an outburst, the nice thing about laughter is that you can easily make it look like you’re sobbing-- hysterically.

I’ve been to a handful of funerals in my life. It’s funny how different they are. There are so many ways to say goodbye. One funeral involved not a relative, but a former academic dean—a retired one star general. It was a BFD. I got to be there because the family requested to have a cadet contingent at the funeral—specifically from the company that this dean was in way back when he was a cadet. I was in this company, so therefore I got to attend.

This involved a rehearsal to make sure we didn’t screw up the big show. We spent an afternoon marching down the road to the cemetery, taking our places, waiting, and then returning to the barracks when the show was over. There were other players too—a unit of soldiers to play drums and send the guy off with a twenty-one gun salute. I was doing just fine until the soldiers who had the coffin (empty, of course, this was just the rehearsal) maneuvered into position while another soldier played a snare at a rapid pace. The real funeral would have the accompanying brass and frills, but for the rehearsal, all we had was the drumroll. Drumrolls mean anticipation of something to follow, the resulting “ta-da” of a magic act. I looked at the top of that coffin and envisioned it popping open, jack in the box style. If I laughed out loud, everyone would turn and glare at me. If I fell out of formation, I might have been punished. I locked my lips and stayed as still as I could. As soon as the drumming stopped, I took deep breaths and collected myself. In case you’re wondering, no, thankfully this didn’t happen the next day for the real deal.

I get freaked out to think it will all come to an end. Where do we go? What happens? Does someone just shut the door and turn out the lights and that’s it? I don’t bawl in the car anymore, but there are times when my mind spins in circles, thinking about the time I’ve already lived and how much sand is left in the hourglass. There is not much you can do about any of it. It makes no sense to be shocked and surprised. We know it's coming; it’s the natural order of things.

You have to laugh. It’s going to happen to all of us eventually, or, as my boss has said, “Nobody gets out alive.” The joke’s on us, so at the very least, try to have fun along the way.


Night of the Cheap Jive Jukebox

The Muppet Show was one of the staples I could count on watching when I was little. It started at 8 p.m. and ended half an hour later, which coincided with my bedtime. To this day I have fond memories of mahna-mahna, Harry Belafonte’s “Turn the World Around” and Pigs in Space. In just half an hour’s time, we got to know Gonzo, Scooter, Kermit, Miss Piggy. Fozzie, Rowlff, the Electric Mayhem, Dr. Honeydew and Beaker, The Swedish Chef and so many more. Just thinking of the opening theme song makes me smile. Kids got to see the muppet version of a variety show (and ponder how Kermit had the time to host that and show up regularly on Sesame Street) and adults got to watch it with kids and laugh at the innuendos. I loved the Muppet Show. Loved it!

Well, most of it.

There was a dark side to all of this joy—a fear buried deep in my subconscious, and revealed one night when I woke up panicked. It was one of those nights where I couldn’t get back to sleep unless I went to my parents’ bed. To this day I don’t know why that feels safe—once you’re asleep, you’re back to dreaming by yourself, but maybe you feel better knowing someone will be right beside you to hear the screams.

Anyway, let’s get down to the thing about the Muppet show that I didn’t like. It was the stuff of nightmares--the invention of a mad man.

Sweetums, you say?

No, no, not him. He was just a big teddy bear.


No, no. He was wild, but harmless.

Gonzo? Even if we never could figure out if he was a mosquito or a bird, he wouldn’t hurt a thing.

The thing I was scared of was…

M.A.M.M.A.! (cue music from "Psycho")

I wasn’t even bothered by this thing when it was on the air. Its debut appearance was with Dudley Moore, possibly the least threatening man in the world (yes, I know, I mean when he was alive). It looked like a parody of R2D2—it even had a cameo appearance in “Pigs In Space,” but in my dreams, M.A.M.M.A. was relentless. I remember looking at the hardwood floors as I ran from it, my heart racing as I tried to get away. Despite its clunky appearance, M.A.M.M.A. was agile. The moment I saw that it had no problems following me down the stairs marked the time when I woke up screaming.

So many years later, I decided to try my hand in finding this monster—just to prove to myself that it wasn’t something my mind had conjured up. I tried several variations of the spelling, and finally stumbled onto the right webpage, which had a brief description and a photo. It’s funny now, to think I lost a night of sleep over a robotic muppet--a joke really, but there it is. What was I so scared of? That the thing would blast music at me once I was cornered? You can laugh, I don’t mind, but don’t come crying to me when you wake up in the middle of the night, terrified of the "cheap jive jukebox" chasing you down the stairs.


UPD8 (follow that car)

If anyone remembers the gray car from my post awhile back, just yesterday I happened to see the driver of that very car.

My description to the artist composing the the composite sketch would go like this:

He's got brown hair and is balding
A mustache
In his 40's
Weak chin...

See where I'm going with this? I was envisioning Paul Walker's character from The Fast and the Furious (or even his nemesis "Johnny Tran") and the reality was closer to "Milton" from Office Space.

What's that, you say? What if it wasn't the right guy?

Oh no, no, no, trust me on this one--the way he gunned it out of the parking garage exit confirmed that this was the guy--this was the nutcase who thought it was a good idea to challenge me to a duel smack in the middle of rush hour on the interstate. If I had seen him away from the driver's seat, I would guess he was meek. Shy, even!

I guess some of us really do change once we're strapped into a two ton, 200+ horsepower exoskeleton.


Didn't Ask

Generally people don’t talk on the train. If you see someone wearing headphones, take that as a blatant sign that they intend to be left alone. If I’m wearing headphones, and you talk to me, I will take one out to listen and respond, but I am not there for conversation. I’m there to get home, or get to work, depending on the direction of the train.

You can tell when someone wants to engage in conversation--they make an extra effort to make eye contact until you look up and you're trapped. They smile. You smile. Then it's too late to pretend it never happened. You have to interact now.

“What’s that book about?” said a smirking guy who happened to read the title of the book I was holding (“Naked," by David Sedaris--that was fun to explain.) Sometimes you get a smile, or a “Good morning” and that’s it. Or else the train operator will make a humorous announcement and for a moment, we all laugh, but seconds later we’re back to our papers, or iPods, or Blackberrys. Don’t lament the realization that people can ride in the same train and not have a meaningful bonding experience. Please. I have ridden with the same people for years and I don't speak to any of them or ask where they work or what their lunch sacks contain. They see me too, and no,they don't ask me anything either. Well most of the time they don't.

A few weeks after returning from maternity leave, I was waiting on the train platform and a guy approached me to ask how the baby was doing. That warmed my cold, cold heart just a fraction of a degree. We introduced ourselves and maintained a quasi friendship, but I assume he’s moved to a different route because I haven’t seen him in months. Maybe years. It was nice while it lasted, but I’m not striking up new conversations to fill the void. Tragic, I know but don't cry for me; I’ll be okay. Really.

Yesterday’s seatmate was a talker. I started writing a letter to my friend in my notebook, and he asks if I'm writing my memoirs or a manifesto. I pulled out my earbud and told him I'm writing a letter, and like the smart ass I am, I added "You know, people still write those."

Then (though I didn’t ask) he showed me his book and informed me that he was reading up on how to save money on mortgages. I faked a smile and said that was good to do. Then I popped the earbuds back into place and continued penning my manifesto.

The ride was uneventful until we approached the end of the line, when I put away my notebook and pulled out my iPhone. I was just getting into the 15 game when my seatmate says, "Are you still in school?"


I don’t know why he asked. I would like to think it’s because I possess the youthful glow of an undergrad but let's not kid ourselves. I said, "No. I'm done." (I realize that was a very final answer. The truth is, I don’t know if I’m done—maybe I’ll go back at some point, but when you know the guy next to you is a yackity mofo, you state the facts and hope they shut up.)

He didn’t shut up. Just as I lifted the earbud to my ear (which was the unspoken cue for him to end the conversation), seatmate says,

"So what do you do?"

"I'm a government contractor" (Yes, I know, this is as vague as it gets, but remember, “just the facts.” Then hope they shut up.)

"I'm a consultant" (Note: also vague. In fact, more vague than my response. Also note: I didn’t ask.)

Then he pulls out the business card. It’s a glossy thing, and kind of homemade looking--the card stock was flimsy and the print was crooked. At this point, I figured out that this was yet another Amway-Quixtar-like pyramid scheme (okay, okay, multi-level marketing "business").

I stuff my earbuds back into my bag because I know what follows a business card is a pitch, especially if the card is advertising a borderline pyramid scheme. I’m not at the point where I can totally ignore the person next to me when directly addressed, but I imagine attaining that skill is very freeing. Maybe one day I'll know that freedom. For now, I will pretend to listen, and I’ll nod periodically so you believe I’m listening.

The pitch went something like:
“I work for an energy company--utilities are being deregulated and now people can choose their utility company and …Dallas…opportunity…free trips…points…we’re different because…and not everyone does that…”

Me: *nodding*

"...so there are a lot of opportunities out there, so if you or your husband..."

Me: (thinking) Whew, this isn’t a pick up; he mentioned my husband.

“The website is right there on the business card.” (points to the web address in case I couldn’t recognize it on my own)

Me: "Okay, I'll look into it."

Me: (thinking) Not.

Everyone in sales, pay close attention, I’m coming to the part where my seatmate failed as a salesperson. Ever notice how some people ask how you’re doing and after you provide your generic one sentence answer, they launch into a soliloquy? They didn't REALLY care how you were doing, they only asked get it out of the way so they can talk about themselves without seeming rude for not asking about you. People want to talk about themselves. The trick to sales is simple--you do just the opposite of what most people do. You get people to talk about themselves, and you listen. And act interested. Learn the names of the people they care about, listen to them tell you what they want to do when they grow up. People like talking about themselves and they like doing that with people who appear to care. Once you’re in good, you’re just an interviewer collecting the story and once you’re in really good, you become family. They forget it’s about business and boom, you're in like Flynn (who is that guy, anyway?). Beyond the school question, did this guy do any of that? Nope. He talked about himself.

Here's what I learned without even having to ask:

Seatmate was enlisted in the Air Force and then got commissioned through ROTC

He has a dual bachelor's degree

He has a triple master's degree (in aerospace engineering and two more things listed after I stopped listening)

In the middle of his monologue, seatmate turned to greet a random Asian man on the train. How he knew the right language or that the man would understand, I don’t know. But the man answered and the two chuckled. Then seatmate turned back and said:

“I’m also learning Chinese.”

Me: “Oh.”

Me (thinking) Am I supposed to applaud?

Other stuff I was told by seatmate without asking:

He owns a million dollar business

He has teenaged sons

At some point I mentioned that I had been in the Army. This was the guy’s chance to redeem himself as a salesperson and ask about ME. He didn’t. Which is actually okay; I was just testing him and he didn’t disappoint. I suppose he exhausted any more opportunities to tell me about himself because he finally fell silent.

Then he started talking to the Air Force sergeant to the left of me. The unsuspecting guy was reading something and all of a sudden he’s interrupted with:

“Hey Sarge…”

(I don't know ANY non-commissioned officer outside of Beetle Bailey that wants to be addressed as "Sarge," and the fact that the man asking had served added insult to injury—he should have known better. Who does that?)

This pretend interest in “Sarge” turned out to be more opportunity for seatmate to brag. He started grilling this dude on his specialty and plans for life after retirement (strangely enough he didn’t produce a business card and sales pitch, though). Then seatmate took the opportunity to tell the sarge how he had ten of the ribbons that sarge was currently wearing. Then he asked sarge if he knew any languages. “No,” Sarge replied. Seatmate looked mildly disappointed. I half-expected him to brag about his skills in Chinese, but he didn’t go there. The conversation ended (thankfully) when seatmate explained to Sarge that he retired from the Air Force as a (wait for it) field grade officer.

Mind you, “Sarge” didn’t ask. No one asked. We just wanted to get off the train and go home.


Selectively Yours

Friends, acquaintances, relatives, crushes of years gone by, classmates (high school and college), the ladies I met through a wedding planning website, people who knew me from 7th grade and earlier and last but not least, my dear husband—
Lend me your ears. Or, rather, your eyes.

Let’s talk about Facebook.

I know, I know. I was born in the ‘70’s, the era of bad hair, bad car designs and mostly bad music. Given the site's original purpose of having college-aged members, I have no business there. Facebook is where you broadcast your most miniscule thoughts, post the most obscure photos from your meager existence or sign up to be a fan of Duran Duran simply by clicking the link on their page. What respectable 30 something does that? Okay, I do that here too, but Facebook lets you gather all of that information from looking at just a few pages. As much of your life that you want out there is available for the world or just your “friends” to see, neatly catalogued in a series of tabbed pages.

“What’s the point of those ‘networking’ sites anyway?”

This was asked of me by my husband, who, within a few short months easily surpassed me in the number of “friends” in his account. It’s not surprising—even at my own reunion, more people remembered him than me. That's just the kind of guy he is. ♥

“I never got into the Facebook thing,” said my sister. In other words, “I’m too cool for that bullshit.” “Hm. I didn’t know you were on there,” I replied, “’Friend’ me!”

Days later, she had reconnected with her best friend from junior high school. Junior high! Now it’s not uncommon to find my sister lurking there when I’m on as well. Too cool, indeed.

I have no idea what spurred me to get an account. Curiosity, I guess? I wanted to know what was the big deal about Facebook. I had already seen MySpace and was none too impressed. The bad wallpaper, the musical loops some people attached to their craptastic pages—unless there’s some reason that I find myself in need of raising my blood pressure, testing my retinas or inducing a seizure, I say good day and no thank you to all of that.

Then there’s Facebook—relatively bland in comparison, with its blue border and white pages. Fine, I told myself, let’s give it a whirl.

Now here comes the weird part—if you arrive uninvited, you get tempted to do searches. “Let’s see if so-and-so’s on here?” You think.

Then you do the search. Then you sift through all of the people with the same or similar names until you land on who you presume is the right person. The thought that follows is this:

“If I send out a friend request, the person will know I searched for them.”

And therefore:

“…this person will think I’m a stalker.”

I have a tough time with those friend requests because I’m overly concerned about what the recipient is going to think of me.

Is it going to be:

Heh-heh-heh, I knew she would never forget me.”


“Is this the same person I knew from school/work/the Army/(and so on)?”

Or, simply, a harmless but kind of mortifying:


I have a pretty recognizable name, but just because I think it’s recognizable is no guarantee that everyone else will remember.

I have to get over this, I know. I have gotten a few requests that were complete shockers, taking me back two decades to the days when life was so much simpler (even though I didn’t know it at the time). Never have I thought of someone as a stalker even if they obviously went through the task of typing my name into the search engine.

Once in awhile I have gotten a request and thought, “Who?” but it’s rare, I promise. If I forgot you, let me say in my defense that the memory is the first to go. Did I already mention I was 33?

So what about these "friends?" Some friends are closer to the true meaning of the word than others, but here they all carry equal standing, and they're all a mouse click away, neatly arranged in an alphabetized list.

After you sign up you get to the business of setting up your profile. This includes schools you attended, places you work, where you live and of course, the part where you talk about you, yourself and a few of your favorite things. At first I had all kinds of stuff about favorite movies, TV shows and quotations. Then I looked at it and thought, “So what?” So I deleted it. But to those following my saga, I am halfway through my definitive collection of the Twilight Zone, my TV watching is spotty these days and I have a couple of quotations, but they're both from Stephen King. What does that say about me?

Then there's the photo. What face do you want to present to the rest of the world? This is kind of nice because you can choose one where you have on a cute outfit or where your hair looks good. You have the benefit of choosing one of your better days versus the hand you were dealt when you woke up that morning. You can look bored, maniacal, happy or furious. Why not add in the kid(s), the pet, or the significant other? You can be portrayed in an artistic black and white headshot or standing at a distance, at a creative angle. Or be edgy and represent yourself in a "Where's Waldo" fashion as a face in a crowd, or better yet as an image of some other random person, place or thing. Those who truly know you won't have to ask; they'll get the joke. And if you don’t like the photo, no worries, you can change it anytime.

Back to the original question: what's the point? You get to show summarize your life to everyone else, but you show only what you choose to display. And so does everyone else.

Deep, right? (okay, not really, but work with me, I had to wrap up this up eventually)


Welcome To Stankonia (AKA The Apple Store)

Let me preface this entry by saying I genuinely appreciate Apple products. Function is important, but so is form, and I think Apple captures that best with their gadgets and gizmos. I still remember the computer lab from second grade, equipped with nothing but Apple IIe machines. I remember the Mac we used in our high school publishing class. I remember a friend I visited in college, who also had a Mac on her dorm room desk. Even then I appreciated the outward simplicity and the aesthetic appeal that was missing on bigger, clunkier PC desktops and towers, with their busy keyboards, tangled up cords and enormous CRT monitors.

I like to remind my husband that I was the catalyst in the decision to dump our P.O.S. Gateway Desktop for an Apple (this is one part of my master plan to ensure that he never forgets how fantastic his life is with me in it--it's like getting a color television after watching black & white for 23 years). Regarding "the switch", he fought and fought, but eventually he gave in and voila, we are an Apple household.

While I like most things Apple related, boy do I hate going to the House of Apple; in fact, a few posts ago I promised to write about my hatred of the Apple Store. Why? Because it's always more fun to read a rant. No one wants to hear about the love because they don't want the sweet--they want the bitter. This is the same reason why the villians are almost always more complicated and interesting than the heros.

Without further ado, here are my Reasons For Hating The Apple Store:

1) The place is stink, stank, stunk.
Even in an airy mall, once you're two steps into the Apple store, you're confronted with the funk of the ages. After the iPod came about, Apple was no longer a secret held close by a few. This means the stores are swarmed with people, and also, their various degrees of stink. My husband likened it to the way Zion must smell (from the Matrix). The city was home to thousands of people, stuck deep underground, living in cavelike dwellings with limited resources. Think of the logistics of that. Think of the stink. I'd say my husband is not far off in his assessment.

2) The Genius Bar.
First of all, what is up with the name? I can take Geek Squad or Dorks on Call, but Genius Bar? Do I need to ask what that implies of the rest of us? Is insulting the customers the way to go these days?

And now, with the influx of new Apple Customers, you can't even get a same day appointment at the Genius Bar anymore. Boo.

3) Some of the "geniuses."
Technically this belongs in the previous complaint, I know, but in my warped little mind it's a separate issue. The last trip I made to the genius bar involved a cracked case on the MacBook I bought two months earlier. I couldn't believe it happened. I went online and found that this is a common problem. I clicked through a bunch of photos of cracked macs--there was even a group on flickr created specifically because of this problem.

When I took it to the store, the "genius" assigned to my case smugly informed me that the crack formed because I was closing it too hard. O-kay...somehow the 5 year old ibook I replaced took the beatings just fine, but this new laptop was a delicate little flower. The funny part was that one of the MacBooks that the "geniuses" use was cracked in the same exact place as mine. Case cracked closed: It's a design flaw. It would have been better for this "genius" to admit that instead of blaming me.

He took my laptop and I received it two days later, repaired for free under the warranty.

"This has a reinforced plastic case now," says the genius, "it should be fine."

Well guess what--three months later it's cracked again (okay, this is turning into a product complaint, but what the hell, I'm going with it). I guess the reinforced plastic lasted an additional month of use before it gave out. I hesitate to return to the store because it doesn't affect the computer at all, it's just aesthetic damage, or, in the words of Monty Python's black knight, "'Tis but a scratch!" In the meantime, I have a bandaid holding things together. I'll get it fixed; I just need to go on a day when I have some built up nasal congestion so I can deal with the stink. Or else I'll send my husband to do it (ah, the beauty of being married--you can send your spouse to do your dirty work. Bonus points if he or she actually likes doing it.)


Pond Water People

(please note that this story contains a misspelled profanity of the F variety.)

My commute is mostly a ride on the metro with one transfer between trains. In the mornings it’s red line to yellow line, and in the evenings it’s the reverse (duh). The morning transfer involves a trip down to the lower platform, via the escalator. Due to the timing of the trains, you usually have a wait, but sometimes, if you’re fast enough, you can get off of the red train and get down to the yellow before the doors close.

This is assuming you don't have a crowd of people moving like pond water in front of you. Even then, moving quickly is not a guarantee you'll make the train. You might reach the platform in time, but you're too slow to bridge the distance between the bottom step and the open doors. Missing a train by seconds leaves you just enough time for you to hit the brakes before you smack into the closed doors. At that point, it's not even about catching the train, it's about salvaging your pride, which is harder if the people inside of the train witnessed the whole thing.

If you're close enough to the front car, sometimes you can look over and see the train operator with his or her head poked out of the window. If it’s a merciful person, he or she might open the doors, or wait for everyone running down the steps before shutting them. If it’s a sadist, the operator will make eye contact and smirk at you for a second, and then, just as you think the doors will open, the train operator retracts his or her head back into the train and leaves you to watch what could’ve been your ride as it disappears down the dark tunnel.

One of the things I gained from going to West Point was the ability to walk quickly. “Move with a purpose” was the running motto for most of the first year you spent in the place. It gets so ingrained that after awhile, you no longer know how to move at a relaxed pace. Living on the sixth floor transferred this skill to being able to descend a stairwell in eight tenths of a second. All of these skills are helpful if you have to hurry up to catch a train. And if there are pond water people in front of you, the art of moving with a purpose quickly turns into a curse.

This morning, guess what—I had the pond water people in front of me. From the down escalator, I had a perfect view of the yellow train with its open doors and empty seats. Sure, everyone was walking down the escalator steps, but this was a Friday crowd on the eve of a summertime weekend. No one was moving with a purpose, except me. I wanted to say something. “Move it or lose it” was trapped in my throat as I watched the doors close and found myself only midway down the escalator.

As the train pulled off, I exhaled. I was not going to be like that woman, I told myself.

What woman?

The one who was in a similar predicament on one of my more recent commutes. You see, that day I was the pond water person. Usually I will hurry down the steps, but the people ahead of me were slow. Besides, the train waiting at the platform was not a yellow line train, but a green line train, so I was content to move with the slow flow that morning.

Even with my back to her, I could feel the anger bursting to the surface. You know how it goes, the impatient breathing, the sensation that someone’s toes are grazing your heels—but what could I do? The escalator was packed and the people ahead weren’t going any faster. This was rush hour traffic without the cars.

Then, just as I approached the bottom of the steps, the warning chime sounded and the train doors closed.


Look, I know that feeling. I’ve said it many times in my head and out loud. But never in a crowded train station when the next train was due to arrive in two minutes. I even felt like that today, but you didn't hear a peep out of me. Not even a sanitized “Fudge” could be justified. I calmly accepted my fate, stepped onto the platform and waited for the next train.

And what did I do after the woman's outburst?

I ducked my head down after she said it, partly because I was hiding a disbelieving smile and partly because I figured the blows would be coming next. With a smirk, I took my place on the platform and watched her train disappear down the dark tunnel.